Lexi Thompson, 16, will join the LPGA
2011 Navistar LPGA Classic
Check out photos from the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic in Prattville, Ala.
The #letlexiplay campaign is mercifully over. She’s in.
LPGA commissioner Mike Whan waived the tour’s age restriction for 16-year-old Lexi Thompson, allowing her to become a member in 2012. Thompson will turn 17 on Feb. 10, near the start of the season.
The move follows Thompson’s convincing victory Sept. 18 at the Navistar LPGA Classic. Thompson’s agent, Bobby Kreusler, filed a petition Sept. 29. The LPGA announced Whan’s decision on Friday.
“Lexi Thompson is a unique talent who has continued to grow, develop and mature both on and off the golf course since turning professional in 2010,” Whan said in a statement. “Her overall performance, most recently demonstrated by her win at the Navistar LPGA Classic, has currently placed her among the top 50 in the world on the Rolex Rankings. Additionally, her ability to handle the success and disappointment inherent to this game testifies to a level of maturity that I believe makes her capable of handling the emotional rigors of professional golf. Therefore, effective at the start of our 2012 season, Lexi will officially become a member of the LPGA Tour.”
This was a no-brainer move for Whan. Thompson shattered the tour’s previous record for youngest winner, proving she’s more than capable of cruising through the final two stages of LPGA Q-School. In July, Whan gave Thompson permission to earn her card through Q-School. He called that the real decision, and explained that Thompson's Navistar victory showed him that there was little more for Thompson to prove at Q-School.
Whan also said he isn't worried about this decision setting a precedent for younger players gaining LPGA membership. He pointed out that the Lexi Thompsons of the world are few and far between.
"I don't want young players who are freshmen and sophomores in high school contemplating whether to turn pro. I've said 'no' maybe 50 times and said 'yes' once," Whan said.
Thompson withdrew from this week’s second stage Sept. 23, and said in a Friday press conference that she wasn't too concerned about not having a place to play next year after making that decision.
“It’s safe to say that Lexi and her mom and dad and her family are extremely happy with the decision. All along, this has been Lexi’s dream and her decision,” said Kreusler. Thompson was visiting friends in California when the decision was announced.
Thompson will start the 2012 season with Category 7 (non-member winner) membership. She can improve her membership category with her play next year, Kreusler said. She will be exempt for both the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Her membership category will get her into the LPGA’s full-field events, but not the limited-field events in Asia that start the season. She will be eligible for sponsor exemptions into those events, but her winnings will not count toward the money list.
"Getting more experiences out there is definitely going to help out my game and just keep on playing, work through every tournament," Thompson said.
Kreusler estimated Thompson will play between 18-20 events in 2012, though that number could change.
“We may play a couple more, or even a couple less. It’s going to depend on the LPGA schedule, and how it fits into things like schoolwork and downtime and things like that,” Kreusler said. Thompson is scheduled to graduate high school in May 2012.
As for Thompson’s place in history, Marlene Hagge won the 1952 Sarasota Open – an 18-hole event – at 18 years, 14 days. Paula Creamer held the record for a multi-round event. She won the 2005 Sybase Classic at 18 years, 9 months and 17 days.
Thompson’s Prattville win punched her ticket to the LPGA’s November season finale in Orlando, Fla., the inaugural CME Group Titleholders. Kreusler said Thompson will consider playing the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters in December.
It’s unfair and unrealistic to pin the hopes of the LPGA’s domestic schedule on Thompson, but her presence next year will undoubtedly help Whan as he heads to future sponsorship negotiations.
The 6-foot-tall Thompson doesn’t have the Q-rating of a 16-year-old Michelle Wie, but she has generated the attention of national media since elementary school. Never more so than after her victory earlier this month in Prattville.
Thompson spent last week in New York on an impressive media tour that included NBC and CBS morning show appearances. And, as if her teenage dream wasn’t good enough, she appeared on the Today Show alongside Twilight megastar Taylor Lautner
Thompson’s impressive length makes her all the more compelling as young prodigy. At Navistar, Thompson averaged 276.63 yards off the tee for the week. She hit 63 greens and 39 of 56 fairways. In her opening 66, she hit 18 greens and had 14 putts for birdie within 15 feet.
Aside from her large talent, the home-schooled Thompson carries herself like any other 16 year old. Her father, Scott, carries the bag and her two older brothers, Nicholas and Curtis, check in frequently. Nicholas competes on the Nationwide Tour while Curtis plays for LSU. She comes from a family of overachievers.
“Lexi has always set goals very high,” said Thompson’s mom, Judy. “We just let her dream.”